Religion and the Next Generation

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We work hard. Every day is a struggle to be better versions of ourselves. And as much as we basically have total control over who we are and who we wish to become, we have so little control over the next generation, over what happens with the future of our little ones.

Moshe vs. Yehoshua

I used to question the designation of Moshe (Moses) as the greatest leader of the Jewish people. His successor, Yehoshua (Joshua), seemed to have all the same leadership qualities. And he even merited to have some of the very same miracles occur for him as Moshe had. But whereas Moshe was not allowed to enter Israel, Yehoshua would forever have the accolade of being the one who led the entire Jewish people into the Holy Land. He would be the commander of the greatest conquest our people would ever experience.

So why Moshe as our greatest leader and not Yehoshua? My answer: Moshe was greater than Yehoshua because of Yehoshua. Moshe set up a situation where the people could be happy with and confident in the leadership even after he left this world. But what followed the reign of Yehoshua? Hundreds of years of craziness and disaster! The truly great person not only considers what happens when they’re around, but does everything in his power to ensure the next generation is taken care of. The next generation must be able to thrive as well.

The Next Generation Code

Moshe unlocked a code. He did something almost no one knows how to do. He could pass on his greatness for another generation. He was great not just because he was great, but because he took his greatness a huge step beyond, unlike anyone before or since.

What About the Kids?

It’s damn near impossible not to be concerned when you’re a parent. Everything you say and do can impact the decisions and actions of your children. And as much as ones positive influence is strong and utterly important, it seems to get overshadowed by any of the mistakes we make. Each day we tiptoe around our children’s souls, and every time we turn and knock something over, we are just inches away from irreparable damage.

So what is the key to passing on religion from one generation to the next? If one holds steadfast to his values, and thus believes his ways are the sole way of getting closer to God, how could he not want to pass every last bit of it along to the next generation?

There are no easy answers. Not even close.

The Next Generation

We all know the family where most children followed the path of the parents, but others didn’t. Or most left the fold. In other cases there are parents who did everything objectively wrong, only to find themselves with children who are everything the parents could have ever hoped for. And others where they tried their hardest, sought the best advice, and did everything they could think of to preserve future generations, yet their results were anything from unsuccessful to downright disastrous.

And let’s not forget for even a moment that parents are just one piece (albeit a very important piece) of a giant puzzle. Influences, positive or negative, come from peers, siblings, schools, and communities. Everyone is working together to create a final product. Except even though their influence is upon the same person, their methods, motivations, and behaviors are by no means coordinated.

The Next Generation Models

There are certain models available, each with its own fears and flaws. Probably the most common is to force your ways upon your children. In many aspects, it’s also the easiest. Everyone in your household is required to do as you do, no questions asked. And hopefully this will work for all children, there will be no rebellion, it will carry into adulthood, and the same methodology will be passed down to the next generation as well.

The system seems flawless… for a while. Little children are given candy as positive reinforcement for doing what they’re supposed to do. Little achievements are celebrated. And laughing little people, devoid of any discernment or baggage, play along. They don’t love the way of their people. They’re just forming habits.

Teenage Years Are Coming!

But those teenage years are creeping up. They’re just around the corner, waiting to pounce upon the unsuspecting parent. Now, suddenly, questions begin to form. Things they’ve heard and experienced over the years aren’t adding up. The children see elements that don’t sit well with them. They recall some negative associations with their religion. All just as their emerging minds are trying to figure out the best way to rebel.

Suddenly, the cute children who did what they were told for the eagerly anticipated sweet is starting to see a bigger picture. We created a utopia, where little ones ecstatically behaved like their parents, but it was all just one fleeting performance. It wasn’t real. And it came with an expiration date.

What Happens Next?

Then what happens? Do we continue to promote a fake show, void of any real connection to what they’re doing and feeling? When there’s resistance, do we just push harder, forcing our ways upon the children?

Do we give them room to make mistakes and room to grow as they see fit? If so, when does that begin? And how much room do we give? There are also many additional factors. Preserving the sanctity of our homes. Ensuring our other children aren’t overly influenced by things we don’t wish for them to see.

How much can we rely upon schools or social pressure?

And when all the smoke clears, when everything is entirely out of our hands, how do we react when the results are drastically different from what we had hoped for?

The Results

In the final analysis, every parent wishes the best for his or her child. And if one is a true believer, the “best” includes the children following in the parents’ footsteps. And every day is a brand new struggle to try and positively influence children to land where we want them.

There will be ups and downs. Some days will be filled with joy, others with utter disappointment.

And an ongoing struggle to be joyous and loving regardless of the results.

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